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Costa Mesans deserve to know why City Council stripped Mayor Foley of her title

Costa Mesa’s Nov. 7 City Council meeting was shocking as the council voted 3-2 to remove appointed Mayor Katrina Foley without saying why.

Considering the overwhelming number of public comments urging the council not to take this action, I’d have bet Councilwoman Sandy Genis would’ve read the room and not voted with fellow council members Jim Righeimer and Alan Mansoor for Foley’s removal.

But she did.

On the surface this seemed uncharacteristic of Genis since Foley campaigned with her in the last election and their voter fan bases greatly overlap.

Social media posts have not been kind to Genis now that she is mayor.

Some see her actions as a betrayal of a colleague who supported her and a planned power grab.

I spoke with both women, hoping to dig deeper into this unprecedented removal of a mayor in Costa Mesa.

I got very different stories.

Foley, who will remain on the council, said she’s still baffled as to why this all went down as it did.

If she’s “over-stepped” in any way as mayor, she said, why didn’t City Manager Tom Hatch let her know?

Meeting with him regularly, she continually asked if she was doing anything considered questionable. He never said she was, according to Foley.

I wanted to ask Hatch about this, but he didn’t respond to an interview request before my deadline.

Foley believes she had restored civility to once-cantankerous council meetings and put the city on the right track.

Genis doesn’t agree. Civility, she told me, was far from what she saw on the dais.

Without getting into specifics, Genis said she tried to reconcile what she was hearing from different city departments and outside agencies interacting with Foley and thought, “This could be bad for us.”

In one instance Genis, citing concerns about Foley, talked to the city attorney, who in turn talked to Foley.

“Eventually the issue became moot, so it never went anywhere,” Genis said.

Genis did not elaborate on what the issue was or why it required, in her mind, the city attorney’s attention.

In addition, Genis said she didn’t make the decision to vote to remove Foley lightly.

She explained the past six months have been stressful, describing “upset stomachs” before meetings.

“I had to swallow hard and bite my tongue” during meetings, she told me.

Though Genis said she still agrees with Foley on many issues, she couldn’t ignore the fact that a core group of supporters from whom she was hearing had become disenchanted with her.

I pressed Genis for details but she declined to provide them, saying that hashing this out in public isn’t productive for anyone.

I disagree. The why — as in why Foley lost her title a year before her term was over — is important.

Residents deserve specifics.

With that in mind I had some questions for Righeimer, who publicly called for Hatch to initiate an investigation into the activities of the former mayor.

What activities?

“This will all come out in due time,” he told me. “You’ll know why, and it’s not a personality issue.”

When I asked if there was a legal issue stopping him, he said he “wouldn’t comment either way.”

I told Righeimer it certainly didn’t appear that Genis made a spur-of-the moment decision to become mayor at the last council meeting.

He said he didn’t know up until the final vote whether Genis would vote for removal or not.

Foley alleged a friend sat behind someone in the audience who was texting Righeimer during the meeting, hoping Genis wasn’t getting cold feet and would still vote with him.

Righeimer said he did not get a text like that.

Whether this happened or not, it’s important to note that texting conversations during a public meeting are inconsistent with the spirit of open-meeting laws, where the goal is to air ideas in an open forum.

So is the removal of Foley’s title purely a political move or, as she calls it, the “politics of personal destruction”?

Righeimer said no.

He said he’s not running for office once he’s termed out and has nothing to gain.

Though some theorize removing Foley was orchestrated to give Mansoor — a Righeimer ally who became mayor pro tem in all this — a boost in the upcoming 2018 mayoral race, Righeimer agreed with me the opposite could be happening.

Those who see Foley as the wronged party will strongly support her as she runs against Mansoor — and possibly others — to become the city’s first elected mayor. The mayor, under the current system, is chosen for a two-year term by the five elected council members.

Since the meeting last week, Foley said she’s been receiving campaign contributions, calls, emails and well-wishes from supporters outraged by the turn of events.

“People are coming out of the woodwork, some I haven’t heard from in years,” she said.

So what’s my take on all of this?

In my book, if the electeds in Costa Mesa have concerns they believe are egregious enough to remove the mayor, then spit out specifics.

The fact that that they won’t leads me believe something’s happening behind the scenes of serious consequence. The public deserves to know sooner rather than later.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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